BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Three college-aged men were sentenced April 9 to seven to eight years in federal prison for setting fire to several Alabama rural Baptist churches last year.
Matthew Cloyd, 21, and Benjamin Moseley, 20, were sentenced to eight years in prison, while Russell DeBusk, 20, was sentenced to seven years, The Birmingham News reported.
Nine Baptist churches were burned in February 2006, five on one night, four on another. Cloyd and Moseley were sentenced for their role in all nine; DeBusk was sentenced for his involvement in the first five. The three men pled guilty in December.
U.S. District Judge David Proctor also ordered the men to pay $3.1 million in restitution and to do community service. A mandatory sentence of at least seven years kicked in because two firefighters were injured in one of the blazes.
“You harmed a lot of people, but with God’s grace you have … opportunity to do good still,” Proctor told them, according to the News.
DeBusk told the court the fires were set after a night of drinking. A “snowball effect” then took place, where the men wanted to set fire to more and more churches, the News reported him as saying. He told of being “absolutely petrified” at what had happened after he became sober. All three apologized for their actions.
“I’m ready to accept the consequences of my actions and move forward, your honor,” Cloyd said.
After the first five fires were set, Cloyd and Moseley set four more churches on fire in another part of the state in an attempt to throw off law enforcement officials, The New York Times reported.
The three still face state charges.
Walter Hawkins, pastor of Dansby Baptist Church — whose building was burned — urged forgiveness.
“We love them,” Hawkins said, according to the News. “The Bible teaches us about forgiveness. If we don’t forgive, our heavenly Father will not forgive us for our trespasses.”
Compiled by Michael Foust.